In a world where more people have heard of Scrabble than The Quacks of Quedlinburg the gamerfied word game is a potential attraction into the hobby. It’s tricky though, too much fiddle and new gamers are put off, too much plain old scrabble and gamers won’t play. How does Letter Jam stack up?
Just like Just One, Letter Jam is a co-operative game and just like Just One Letter Jam is more about the journey than concepts like winning and losing. The end of the game will be filled with moments of admiring each other’s genius while simultaneously fuming with other so called clues they gave you. This is the pure joy of Letter Jam. That despite some small bumps along the way the end of the game will be one of those moments. Moments of a shared experience that was as exhilarating as it was exasperating.
The gameplay is relatively simple. A deck of cards made up of letters is shared among all players. Each player will use their hand to make a five letter word for the player next to them. This is shuffled up and dealt face-down in front of that player. Once each player has five cards in front of them they take the leftmost. Then, without looking at it place in a holder in front of them facing the other players. In this way everyone will be able to see the each other’s cards but not their own. Depending on player count there may also be a couple of simple dummy players with cards of their own.
Players will then make bids of words then can make hopefully using the other players hidden letters. You are allowed to say how many letters your word has and if it uses the common wild letter, and any dummy letters. Together you decide who’s clue sounds best and they use numbered poker chips to spell out the word. Or at least the order of the letters. Using your pad you record the ones you can see and try to work out what the missing letter could be.
Once you are sure, which might be the first clue word given, you place that letter face down and go to the next one. When everyone thinks they have all five they work out what the word is and arrange the cards in the correct order. There are some other house keeping rules, particular if one person finishes earlier, and to run the dummy players. There is also a mechanic for tracking how many turns you have had. Also one for making sure every player takes a turn giving a word. Unfortunately this part of Letter Jam is fiddly involving red and green discs and for some reason a flower card! It would have been far simpler to include a tick box on the already provided sheets to track rounds and who hasn't given clues. It's a puzzling decision when Letter Jam isn't really about the winning.
Just One is an example of a perfect rule set for this sort of game simple and with wiggle room. Letter Jam, in attempting to appeal to gamers, makes it's only real misstep with this unnecessary complication. When the game does end you won't care about how long it took you or some convoluted idea of scoring, instead the shared journey you took will be the highlight, and the reason you want to play again.
For the most part Letter Jam is an excellent co-op experience that encourages everyone to get involved. There is a little more too it than Just One but it is easy enough to learn as you play even for newcomers.